The Sazerac House

I’m writing this whole long post about just a couple of hours we spent touring a liquor museum because:

  1. We’ve done so much in Nola that an overview of everything is hard to write! Here’s one story.
  2. A good friend led the exhibits design team for the museum displays, so I got an insider’s view that’s worth sharing.
  3. I really enjoyed the tour.

Okay, Sazerac is a New Orleans company, and its main product is a rye whisky that’s one of the oldest products of Nola. Sazerac’s history is wrapped up in the history of Nola as a city—through European colonization, American purchase, prohibition, and onward. According to the museum, the culture, politics, and shape of Nola can be told through the story of this whiskey.

I won’t tell you all about that though because you can look it up. I will tell you about the interesting tour we went on.

The building itself is downtown, at the edge of the French Quarter, and is huge; it was recently restored by the Sazerac company to its original historic facade. We had to book a tour time, I’m guessing so they can manage the crowds to filter them where they want them inside, like having us linger on the first-floor gift shop until the tour started. Ironically, the one thing we’d just discovered we need, a wine bottle opener, is not in their lineup because they don’t make a product with a cork. We lingered as directed, though, and enjoyed even the displays of gift items. High class.

The whole place is engaging in that you can’t easily tell what’s on display and what’s part of the distillery. There’s distilling equipment on the first floor that looks legit (I’m told a small amount whiskey is made there), and the second floor has a lab that, at first seems cheesy as can be (what science would be going on in a museum?), but at a closer look you see that some of the machinery is super expensive and would never just be on display. My guess is there’s some quality control going on here, which is intersting that it’s part of the museum, as well.

Friends in Cool Places

The best parts are what my friend and former coworker, Mike, designed. (He and I worked at the magazine.) After he left that gig, he worked as a museum display designer, and he showed me his sketches and mock-ups of much of the Sazerac House as he was working on it.

In fact, we’d sit at a bar while he showed it all to me, which is an irony not lost on me. Mike and I shared a good part of our relationship sitting next to each other at bars.

Little did I know I’d be visiting Sazerac a few years later, after Mike had officiated at Tracy and my wedding. Seriously!

Back to the Sazerac House, though. One of its engaging aspects is the merging of reality (for example, the industry sections of the building and tangible parts of the museum displays) with video used as illusion.

For example, an image projected onto the display in the front of this building facade changes the vision of the wall (from a street scene to inside a bar, in my two shots), and the video behind the windows changes to suit. As you walk along the windows, you feel like you’re moving through the scene.

A Virtual Bar

My favorite of several displays is this bar (of course).

You sit as if you’re at a live bar, but your bartender is on video in front of you. He/she has been captured so that they seem to be interacting with you, with realistic conversation and pauses. On the prompt, you pick which drink you want, and they mix it in front of you, with descriptions of the drink’s history and unusual ingredients.

The brilliant part is when the bartender hands you your drink—your view of the bar is the top of their hand sliding the drink toward you. You click on a button to pretend you’ve tasted it, and the bartender responds. For one drink, we were served a flaming lime half floating on top. Dude. My kind of museum exhibit.

Actual Tastes

The center point of the museum are tiny real bars on each floor where a real (costumed) bartender gives a quick history of what they’re serving, with flair. We’d been given an electronic wristband when we signed in, and this we would scan at each bar location, I’m guessing so you are limited to one shot per spot. Very classy wristband for a free tour.

I’m not a fan of whisky, so I’d take a polite taste, then hand my shot to Tracy surreptitiously as we walked away. Let’s say, with double shots on each of the three floors, he was having a grand time. I think he even referred to Mike as a god at one point.

All in all it was very touristy, but also full of information about New Orleans and full of fun. Very much like Nola itself, as our experience as tourists goes. Thanks, Mike! I hope to sit beside you at a bar again one day soon.

4 thoughts to “The Sazerac House”

    1. I mean, you’ll enjoy the Sazerac House! Duh, you’ve lived in Nola!. Check this place out for sure. Tracy says to bring a friend who’s doesn’t drink so you can get doubles. 🙂